More than 80 million Americans enjoy cycling because it is an environmentally-efficient way to travel, a great form of exercise and a fun recreational activity for families to enjoy.
According to 2013 statistics from the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), more than 1.3 million people were treated in hospitals, emergency rooms and doctors’ offices for bicycle-related injuries, making it all the more important for riders need to be 100 percent prepared and cautious before hitting the pavement.
In 2012, bruises and minor cuts were the leading types of injuries involving bicycles, followed by fractures, then lacerations and strains and sprains. However, serious injuries, including concussions or death, can occur.
“In my specialty, I see many cycling injuries that are caused by traumatic accidents,” said Eric Chehab, MD spokesperson for the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) and specialist in sports medicine. ““Similar to driving a car, there are rules of the road with cycling, and it’s imperative that riders follow those rules to help decrease the incidence of collisions and other traumatic occurrences.”
Since orthopaedic surgeons treat so many broken arms, wrist sprains, strains and other bicycle-related injuries — and will treat, but would rather prevent, injuries — the AAOS offers these bike safety tips.:
Road safety rules
- Follow rules of the road. Familiarize yourself with all of the bicycle rules of the road in your city or state. Follow traffic signs and lights. Signal your turns, or your intentions, so that drivers can anticipate your actions.
- Ride defensively. Ride in the direction of traffic and be aware of all surroundings. Be careful when riding next to parked cars to avoid hitting an opening door.
- Avoid distracted cycling. Do not listen to music with headphones, talk on your phone, text or do anything else that can obstruct your hearing and/or vision while riding.
- Never ride a bicycle while under the influence. That means if you’re affected by alcohol, medication, or even if you’re really tired.
- Never underestimate road conditions. Be cautious of uneven or slippery surfaces.
- Take extra precautions while bicycling at night. Wear bright fluorescent colors; make sure to have rear reflectors. Both a working tail light and headlight should be visible from at least 500 feet away.
“A helmet is your friend while cycling, so always wear one,” said Alex Jahangir, MD, an orthopaedic trauma surgeon from Nashville, Tennessee, and AAOS spokesperson. “The other important factor is getting professionally sized for a bike. This is especially essential for growing kids who may have outgrown their bikes. Having an appropriately-sized bike helps the rider to have better control while riding, thus reducing the risk for falls and other accidents.”
- Use proper gear. Avoid loose clothing and wear appropriate footwear — never wear flip flops. Wear padded gloves and use appropriately-padded cycling shorts for longer rides. If you commute on your bike, carry your belongings in a proper bag with close fitting straps. Wear sunscreen, when appropriate.
- Service your bicycle. Check your bicycle’s mechanical components on a regular basis (brakes, tires, gears, etc.), just like you would for a car. If your bike is not in good condition, do not ride it.
- Adjust bicycle to fit. Make certain the bicycle is the proper size for the rider. Appropriately sized frames, handlebar and seat heights, as well as understanding gear systems, helps reduce the risk of overuse injuries and improves your control of the bike. If you ride regularly, consider a professional fit.
- Always wear a helmet approved by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). Studies have shown that wearing a bicycle helmet can reduce head injuries. Make sure it fits snugly but comfortably and does not obstruct vision, and it should have a chin strap and buckles that stay securely fastened.
- If you are involved in a crash and notice that your helmet is cracked, first get monitored for signs of concussion, then discard the helmet and obtain a new one.
Other smart bicycle riding tips
- Pace yourself. Cycling can be vigorous exercise, so make sure you are fit enough to participate before you start pedaling. See your doctor before you begin any exercise program.
- Change riding positions. Slight variations in your position can reduce stress on pressure points on your body and avoid overstressing muscles.
- Supervise younger riders at all times. It is recommended that younger children ride only in enclosed areas.
- Medical ID bracelets: Consider wearing a medical ID bracelet. This is useful if the rider is unable to provide basic information to first responders.
- Watch your fuel level: Be sure to carry water and food on longer rides. Drink a full water bottle each hour on the bike.